Popularity isn’t a sign of quality. Some of the best games ever bombed at retail, and some of the best-selling games of all time aren’t worth the storage space they’d take up on your hard drive. Popularity does offer a glimpse of what our culture values, though, and I’ll let you decide what the best-selling games of all time say about the world we live in today and the culture that has arisen around videogames. If you’re tempted to land on some kind of grand unified theory about violent videogames, though, please note that Tetris, Minecraft, The Sims, and a few sports games are on this list. It’s not all guns, swords, and sentient mushroom squashing.
Here are the best-selling videogame franchises of all time, according to Wikipedia, a website that has never been wrong about anything ever. Not even once.
Original release: 1996
Copies sold: 111 million
Yep: a game that’s largely overlooked in North America, dismissed as the distant second-place runner-up behind FIFA, is massively popular throughout the rest of the world. Tracking Pro Evolution’s history can be a little tricky—that name wasn’t used until 2001, but that first entry was released as Winning Eleven 5 in North America and Japan, using the name of Konami’s existing football series. Although it has a dedicated fan base in the US, it’s much larger internationally, where the gulf between it and FIFA isn’t quite as wide. It also often gets better reviews from game critics and football fans than its more famous competition.
Original release: 2006
Copies sold: 115 million
Sometimes a game sells well simply because it’s bundled with the hardware. Sometimes hardware sells well because of the game that comes with it. The greatest example of the latter is Wii Sports. The first game came with every Wii, at least outside of Asia, and was the prime driver of the Wii’s massive popularity throughout 2007 and 2008. All told the original Wii Sports sold over 80 million copies. A follow up, Wii Sports Resort, which also introduced the Wii Motion Plus peripheral, sold over 30 million copies, at a time when the Wii fad had already collapsed. A third game, Wii Sports Club, came out for the beleaguered Wii U in 2013; it was essentially a remake, and its sales were a small fraction of the original’s. And the latest Wii Sports, now renamed to Nintendo Switch Sports, landed on the Switch in 2022.
Original release: 1999
Copies sold: 118 million
2K’s annual b-ball smash began life as one of Sega’s sports titles, which makes this the only franchise on the list to debut on the beloved Dreamcast. (Allen Iverson was its very first cover boy, and that makes me feel officially older than dirt.) The 2K series has long dominated the basketball game scene, and has grown increasingly ambitious and complex over the years; one had a career mode “directed” by Spike Lee, and other recent entries have been criticized for an extreme reliance upon microtransactions. Still, it’s one of the most successful game series of all time, moving over 90 million units in the past 20 years.
Original release: 1996
Copies sold: 125 million
Across seven main-line entries, a constant stream of remakes, and a smattering of spin-offs, Capcom’s zombie horror game has sold over 90 million copies since 1996. That’s a lot of splattered undead. It helps to have an inexplicably long-running movie series by your side, of course, even if it’s one that’s only loosely based on the games.
Original release: 1986
Copies sold: over 126 million
Here’s another reminder that quality and significance doesn’t directly correlate with commercial performance. The Legend of Zelda is the second oldest franchise on this list, had a profound impact on the medium, and, with over 30 entries (including mainline games, remakes, and spin-offs), has one of the largest catalogues of any franchise here. And yet it only comes in at number 18. As beloved as Link, Zelda, and the rest of Hyrule are, they apparently just can’t compete with the likes of Angry Sociopath #3 from GTA or the generic gun guys of Call of Duty.
Original release: 1988
Copies sold: 130 million
John Madden retired from the broadcast booth a decade ago. He hadn’t been a coach in over 20 years at that point. We’re rapidly approaching the moment where the overwhelming majority of Madden players have no idea who the game is named after or why—if we aren’t already there. The fact that the most beloved NFL commentator’s largest impact on the culture hasn’t been his own careers but a videogame that licenses his name is weirder and less predictable than the Madden Curse. Anyway, football fans have been slapping around the pigskin with Madden for over 30 years, and there’s no sign it’ll ever stop. It wasn’t the first sports series, it may not be the best, but it’s easily the biggest and most important.
Original release: 1994
Copies sold: 150 million
I’m not going to lie: I was shocked to see EA’s racing game this high on the list. I knew it was popular—you don’t turn a game that’s not popular into a major motion picture starring Aaron Paul—but bigger than Madden? Bigger than Zelda? Bigger than Resident Evil? I didn’t know you had it in you, Need for Speed. Kudos.
Original release: 1991
Copies sold: over 151 million
Sega’s feisty mascot launched as a rival to Mario in 1991 and quickly broke out of games into mainstream pop culture. Over the decades Sonic has starred in dozens of games, a long-running comic book series, and cartoons, and has a big budget Hollywood film on the way. The series has cultivated a passionate group of fans who seem united in two things: their love of Sonic, and their disappointment in almost every videogame Sonic has starred in for the last 20 years or so. That hasn’t deterred Sega from regularly making new ones, though; since his 1991 debut, Sonic has starred in over two dozen games with his name in the title, and an additional five games where he competes against Mario in the Olympics. He’s also become a key member of the Super Smash Bros. roster. Most game mascots launched in the ‘90s were flashes in the pan, but Sonic is here to stay.
Original release: 1992
Copies sold: 168 million
Nintendo’s kart racer has one of the highest per-unit sales totals on this list. Sonic has been huge for decades, and yet has sold less copies than Mario Kart has, despite having over three times as many games in his franchise. That’s how absurdly popular Mario Kart has been since hitting the Super Nintendo in 1992. When considered its own franchise, and not part of the larger Mario world, it’s the company’s third best-selling game, behind only Super Mario platformers and Pokémon. People love screwing over their friends on go-karts.
Original release: 1987
Copies sold: 168 million
It’s hard to count how many Final Fantasy games actually exist. Yeah, there have been 15 installments of the main series, but there have been so many spinoffs, sequels, remakes, remasters, mobile games, and more that it’s difficult to land on a single number. (I quit counting around 50.) Let’s just say that over the last 30 years Final Fantasy has been the preeminent role-playing game series, helping define that genre in Japan and being one of the first JRPGs to bring that genre to the West. It also might have the most devoted fanbase of any series on this list, which is really saying something.
Original release: 1995
Copies sold: 200 million
Lego videogames go back a lot farther than the pop culture parodies that started with Lego Star Wars. The first officially licensed Lego videogame dates back to 1995, and was available solely for Sega’s educational console for kids, the Pico. Since then there have been 70 more games with the Lego name or license, and it’s mostly the run of popular movie tie-ins over the last 15 years that got the company a spot on this list.
Original release: 2007
Copies sold: 200 million
This is what annual releases can do for you. Assassin’s Creed is only 12 years old, but in that time has only seen two years without a mainline release—and partially made up for that by releasing two mainline entries in one year at one point. Add in various handheld, mobile and downloadable spinoffs, and you’ve got a large library of titles in not too long a time period. It’s also a series that tries to hook regular players with an absurdly convoluted mythology that is furthered with pretty much entry, so there are probably a good number of series Creed fans who pick up every one. Either way it’s been a smash hit for Ubisoft, and is one of the youngest franchises on this list.
Original release: 2000
Copies sold: 200 million
Will Wright’s real life simulator has seen a myriad of expansions and spinoffs, and has been ported to pretty much every piece of hardware that could possibly play it. It’s still only had four main installments in almost 20 years, though, meaning its per-game sales are one of the highest on the list. The Sims has been its own unique phenomenon since day one, and although some longtime fans have issues with the newest version, it’s hard to see this series ever coming to an end.
Original release: 2011
Copies sold: 238 million
Yeah—one game has sold that many copies. Minecraft is the single best-selling videogame of all time. If you can’t remember back to, oh, four years ago, Mojang’s crafting game was maybe even bigger at its peak than Super Mario was at his. A whole generation of players became obsessed with this game, spawning all kinds of merchandise and other assorted tie-ins, and prompting Microsoft to buy the game for $2.5 billion in 2014. The fad might have run its course, as all fads do, but Minecraft isn’t going anywhere. With its sprawling worlds and open-ended nature, it’s less of a game than a tool set or a play box, and as long as Microsoft keeps tweaking it and porting it to new hardware Minecraft will probably live forever.
Original release: 1993
Copies sold: 325 million
The biggest game not just in football but all of sports, FIFA dominates the sales charts throughout the world every year. It’s also regularly one of the very last games released for older systems—it was coming out for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 as recently as 2018, four years after their successors were released. FIFA 14 had a PlayStation 2 version, 13 years after that console first came out. It comes out every year on every system in every market around the world, and that level of availability is another reason FIFA is one of the best-selling games of all time.
Original release: 1997
Copies sold: 380 million
People love mayhem, and Grand Theft Auto has ridden that love to massive success. After flying under the radar with its first few games, GTA blew up with 2001’s Grand Theft Auto III, which helped define the third-person action genre and also normalized the M rating. GTA III took a weird, cult series, injected a cutting edge cinematic approach to storytelling, and in the process created the biggest gaming franchise of the 21st century.
Original release: 1985
Copies sold: over 383 million
Are you shocked Mario isn’t #1? Well, we’re being strict here: we’re looking at every Mario series as its own individual franchise. So this doesn’t include the sales of Mario Kart or any of the other spinoffs—if we added those in Mario would be sitting at over 760 million units sold. The classic Super Mario platformers represent perhaps the most consistently great videogame series of all time, so it makes sense that it’s also one of the best-selling. With the Super Mario series Nintendo has crafted something special—something with a longevity and consistent level of both quality and popularity that’s almost unheard of in any medium.
Original release: 2003
Copies sold: 425 million
Activision defined the first-person shooter for a generation with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, which supercharged the already popular FPS series into one of the biggest games of every year. From the rise of online multiplayer, to Call of Duty World League’s stature in the world of esports, Call of Duty has constantly reflected the shifting state of the games industry, while always letting its players blow off steam through digital warfare and violence. Call of Duty conquered the FPS market for two main reasons: its accessibility (Modern Warfare perfected FPS controls on console) and its love of excess, in terms of both narrative and action.
Original release: 1996
Copies sold: over 440 million
It’ll take you forever to catch ‘em all: Nintendo and Game Freak have been pumping out, on average, over three Pokémon a year since 1996. A lot of those are spinoffs, mobile games, one-offs, and other assorted randomness, but the main series of light RPGs has been keeping players occupied for over two decades now. Of course there’s a long-standing tradition of releasing two similar Pokémon games at the same time, with the primary difference between them being slightly altered creatures rosters. That might tip the scales a bit in Pikachu’s favor, but there’s no denying these adorable little critters are huge in the world of games.
Original release: 1984
Copies sold: 495 million
It might’ve been released in over 60 different permutations over the years, but there’s only one Tetris. It’s less a videogame series or franchise than a game like chess—something so singular and fundamental that it feels weird to view it the same way as, say, the Assassin’s Creed games, or Grand Theft Auto. Still, across these dozens of Tetris releases you’ll find different rules, different viewpoints, even different shapes, so they’re not quite the same exact game. And as Tetris Effect and Tetris 99 have shown the last few years, there’s still room to innovate within Alexey Pajitnov’s masterpiece.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.